MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 24, 2013

Downtown streetscape envisioned

DMI to hire urban planner to fashion project

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City Councilor Lee Ann Langston remembers downtown Muskogee fondly from her childhood.

Because of her desire to see downtown revitalized, Langston joined the design committee for Downtown Muskogee Inc. She will be one of many to participate in a project to create a city streetscape.

“I grew up in the era when Saturday was the excursion day,” Langston said. “Everybody met downtown, and we’d meet our friends. We’d shop and spend the whole day there. It was a great time, a great meeting place.”

Jonita Mullins, DMI’s executive director, said that as part of its work toward revitalizing downtown, DMI will hire an urban planner with a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“We sometimes say here in Muskogee we kind of have plan fatigue because we have so many of them,” Mullins said. “And I understand that, but I also know I can’t go ask for money and expect to get it without having a specific plan. So you need the plan to make a real difference.”

The urban planner will visit Muskogee in February to begin his research. Public meetings will take place throughout the process, and Mullins hopes the public and city officials will weigh in.

“One of the things that we kind of get stressed in Main Street work is there has to be both private and public partnership,” she said. “You also want it to be community driven.”

DMI is part of the Main Street Oklahoma program, which helps cities revitalize their downtowns.

Mullins said she’d like to see the urban planner focus on the museum district, antiques district and the possibility of turning Fourth Street into a walking corridor, attractive to tourists, that will connect the museums and the mall.

Sidewalks, signage, light poles and facades will be addressed, she said.

“I’ve driven every inch of downtown, and we have probably one dozen different styles of light poles in downtown,” Mullins said. “And that’s what I’d like to get away from, to get us all on the same page and have a look that’s nice, seamless and beautiful.”

Once the plan is complete, it will be important for the city to get behind the plan, Mullins said.

Langston said that as a city councilor, she hopes her connection with DMI and the council will help bring the two together on the project.

“I’ve heard how people from other cities talk about how it’s a cooperative effort from the city and private funds and grants,” she said. “I’d think at the very least they would want to get our blessing if nothing else, and I think it should be a joint venture.”

Mullins said the city could adopt a historical overlay for the downtown area and put in place codes and ordinances that require building owners to follow the plan.

Langston said: “I think that’s a fabulous idea. And I would certainly be in favor of putting forward something that would at least let us talk about it.”

Langston said she’d like to see research on what other cities have done, what has worked and what they’ve had trouble with before anything goes to the City Council.

“You do have to watch how you are protecting freedom of speech,” she said. “It’s something we discussed when we were working on our murals ordinance, and I think it would apply to a plan like this as well.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.